I was in the middle of writing a completely different column when I found myself getting distracted with The Big Bang Theory on television. TBBT is far from being my favorite TV show as it’s more of a long-time guilty pleasure when my brain is fried and I need something shallow to delve in. A few episodes in, I started growing concerned with just how tone-deaf the series actually is, with the five “geeky” grown men showing immense misogyny and deliberate blindness for the entirety of the series—all at the expense of a laugh track.
Don’t get me wrong, dumb shows are a good break every now and then. But when it comes to the point of women being used as ploys for men to better themselves and show off their intelligence—all while throwing them away when they are no longer useful plot devices to drive “adorkable” characters forward—that’s where the line gets drawn and should be up for debate.
No matter how much pop culture divides the line between “jocks” and “nerds”— always making the latter be the underdogs we inevitably root for—masculinity, and gender identity in general, is no competition. There’s no “better” type because there is no basis on the tropes we grew up with in the first place. It’s fun to fall back on stereotypes, but when we get older, we realize it’s never the case in the real world.
We must never excuse the already downplayed and the hidden
Much like when social media set its heart-eyes radar on the tokhang-inspired marriage proposal aptly named “Love in the time of Tokhang”, the deliberate blindness and insensitivity was through the roof, downplaying tokhang as a #relationshipgoals term than the national issue it really is. Misogyny in pop culture is no different, as it’s traditionally treated as the endearing comic relief. Or worse, the quirky detail among men that we pass off as the classic “boys being boys” excuse because they don’t know any better. Too much sympathy with little correction breeds the inability to grow. We can’t always go “aww” on wide-eyed men who don’t choose to know better and proceed to go gaga over devalued serious issues.
At the heart of it, what we laugh at comes into play here as well. Comedy is one of the best things in the world. Most smart TV shows don’t confine themselves into stereotypes, but really get into the nitty gritty of what’s funny. That’s why it’s so deafening when people fall back on stereotypes to get a laugh—degrading humor and the many layers it can pull back. As if we needed an experiment to back it up, a Western Carolina University study did just that by confirming that exposure to sexist humor can lead to tolerance of hostile feelings and an overall discrimination against women. What we laugh at is what we end up internalizing and supporting, after all.
Just as much as power pop culture can open our eyes, it can also blur out red flags until they just look like flags. But as the viewers, we must never excuse the already downplayed and the hidden but challenge what feels wrong and off. Remember that asking “why” has so much power. “Why is this funny?” or “Why do you find it funny?” goes a long way in making people think. Make people (and yourself) scrutinize what they laugh at and crack jokes about until you realize it’s not worth being laughed off. If TV shows can do better than misogynistic humor—and they can—then so can people and what we choose to support.
The trouble isn’t just with shows like TBBT—it’s in the guilty pleasures that have a reason for reeling in that guilt in the first place.